Running a new businesses requires a variety of hard and soft skills. You have to master a variety of disciplines from marketing and business strategy, to hiring and investor relations. As your business grows, you can begin to delegate these responsibilities to employees with experience and education in these areas, but in the beginning, most CEOs are involved in virtually every aspect of their business, whether they’re knowledgable about it or not.
CEO’s usually start out with expertise in one or maybe two areas their business, but with little to no experience in all the other aspects required of a functioning business, the first few years of running a new business in inevitably filled with a lot of trial and error and good old improvisation. It’s no surprise that 80 percent of all business fail in the first 18 months!
Shortening the learning curve as much as possible is your best chance of joining the percentage of new businesses that’s don’t fail. Here are 4 pieces of advice for first-time business owners as they begin to navigate what it really means to be a CEO. Take these to heart as soon as possible, and you’ll be setting up your business for a much greater chance of success.
1. Drop the ego, and make sure your co-founders do too.
If you or your co-founders are unwilling to be wrong, I can guarantee that your business is not going to go far. As you’re building out the infrastructure of a real company, you’re all going to be wrong A LOT. The faster you can each admit to this and adjust to a new strategy accordingly, the less time you’ll waste to getting to something that actually works. Your company is going to go through several iterations before it finds success, if it ever does. Your ability to adapt is your greatest strength.
And remember, good ideas are good no matter where they’re coming from. If your co-founders will only listen to ideas from each other, you’re all limiting your probability of success. As you pick up new employees, speak with new investors, and network with fellow entrepreneurs, embrace the chance to get an outsiders perspective. Sometimes you’re too close to see what’s not functioning correctly. If it’s an insightful observation, be ready to listen to address the criticism internally.
2. Let your employees act as individuals, and treat them as such.
One of the most common misconceptions about managing employees is that you have to have every person conform to the same style of leadership, learning, or working. This is an idealistic idea that never actually works.
Your employees are your most important asset, and your ability to motivate them and harness their individual strengths is what is going to differentiate you as a great leader. You should figure out the best method of communicating criticism to each. You should know what motivates your employees and what their personal and professional goals are. You should know when your employees are at their peak productivity (are they morning people or night owls? do they need alone time to focus or do they function best when collaborating?) You should know whether they are visual learners or prefer to have things written down. Instead of having your employees conform to your style of management, adapt your style to align with what works best for each individual. This will dramatically impact your employees performance.
3. Don’t hire too quickly.
It’s easy to succumb to the pressure to just get butts in seats. But having warm bodies in the office isn’t enough to give you the high performing company you need to really take off.
The cost of hiring the wrong person is a significant waste of money and time, and especially when you’re small, every individual has a disproportionate impact on your business. Make sure you’re examing potential hires for the same things you’d want in a larger company: do they fit in with the team? Do their skills alight with the job requirements? Do they buy into your company vision?
If you can hire someone as a consultant before taking them on full-time, even better. The trial period will allow you to see how they work with your team in the real world.
4. Embrace disagreement.
Small teams often assume that every needs to be in agreement, and they will compromise the best solution in order to gain a consensus. The problem is, compromise is not always what’s best for the company. Encourage debate, and encourage everyone to thoroughly vet the consequences of your potential solutions. This may not lead to agreement, but the process of this harsh vetting will help you choose the solution with optimal results regardless of total consensus. As long as everyone can agree upon the company goal and vision, differences around the method can be worked around.
Running a business isn’t easy, and many underestimate how hard the learning curve is for a first-time owner. The best piece of advice I can give is to be open to advice, but follow your gut. Listen to others experiences and insights, but ultimately you have to commit to a solution that you feel will be best. If (and when) you’re wrong, admit it and move on, quickly.